Mumbai Fables

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Overview

A place of spectacle and ruin, Mumbai exemplifies the cosmopolitan metropolis. It is not just a big city but also a soaring vision of modern urban life. Millions from India and beyond, of different ethnicities, languages, and religions, have washed up on its shores, bringing with them their desires and ambitions. Mumbai Fables explores the mythic inner life of this legendary city as seen by its inhabitants, journalists, planners, writers, artists, filmmakers, and political activists. In this remarkable cultural history of one of the world's most important urban centers, Gyan Prakash unearths the stories behind its fabulous history, viewing Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals--the history behind Mumbai's stories of opportunity and oppression, of fabulous wealth and grinding poverty, of cosmopolitan desires and nativist energies.

Starting from the catastrophic floods and terrorist attacks of recent years, Prakash reaches back to the sixteenth-century Portuguese conquest to reveal the stories behind Mumbai's historic journey. Examining Mumbai's role as a symbol of opportunity and reinvention, he looks at its nineteenth-century development under British rule and its twentieth-century emergence as a fabled city on the sea. Different layers of urban experience come to light as he recounts the narratives of the Nanavati murder trial and the rise and fall of the tabloid Blitz, and Mumbai's transformation from the red city of trade unions and communists into the saffron city of Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena. Starry-eyed planners and elite visionaries, cynical leaders and violent politicians of the street, land sharks and underworld dons jostle with ordinary citizens and poor immigrants as the city copes with the dashed dreams of postcolonial urban life and lurches into the seductions of globalization.

Shedding light on the city's past and present, Mumbai Fables offers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Princeton history professor Prakash weaves thrilling storylines about Bombay life depicted in movies, novels, and comic books with gripping true stories about the legendary Indian metropolis in his first book, "probe the literary, cinematic, and artistic history of radical and anti-colonial imaginations of the cosmopolitan city" to "become aware of its aspirations and limits." Prakash's narratives span from 16th-century colonial rule to the modern-day city, dispelling the myth that Mumbai (known as Bombay until 1995) consists of simply the "compelling bookends" of a "nostalgic ‘tropical Camelot' and the dystopic city of slums." With an inviting style and inability to resist drama, Prakash creates lively portrayals of the major figures in the opium and cotton trades, the sensational reporting of the Blitz tabloid, and the horrific monsoons of the past decade. His occasional commentary is welcome, as it usefully synthesizes the city's complex history for an audience of casual historians and/or Mumbai enthusiasts. With 16 color illustrations. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In this finely researched account, Prakash (Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton Univ.; Bonded Histories) examines the historical circumstances that led to the transformation of Bombay (now Mumbai) from seven island villages to the megalopolis of the present. Compelling backstories bring to light chapters in the city's history: Portuguese and British colonization; the reclamation of lands from the sea; the rise and fall of textile mills; union and working-class resistance to capitalism; communism that paved the way for the rise of the far-right Shiv Sena; the landmark trial that led to the abolition of juries; and the "dysfunctional out-of-control city of the present." Prakash addresses the viewpoints of writers, the cinema industry, architects and urban planners, and tabloids, and he considers recent urban violence and terrorist attacks through the special angle of the Mumbai-set comic book series Doga (several strips are reproduced in color). VERDICT The book is scholarly yet accessible and will interest even the lay reader with its stories that illumine Bombay's past. Essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Mumbai.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL
Times Literary Supplement
The best test of a city's biography, like [Mumbai Fables], is whether it makes the reader want to visit of not. Those who do, having read this book, will have a perceptive, if quirky, insight as their guide.
Glasgow Herald
Brilliant.
— William Dalrymple
Time Out Mumbai
[T]he most masterful history yet written about this celebrated, struggling city, a riveting narrative that reaches back to 1498 to explore the stories the metropolis has conspired to tell itself—and spun out for the world. . . . Prakash's Mumbai Fables sets a new standard in writing about cities, not just as a history of Mumbai but as an accessible history of any metropolis.
— Naresh Fernandes
Literary Review
The strength of Mumbai Fables is its treasury of cultural references about the city, and in this, it excels. Novels, short stories, newspapers, films, poems, paintings; the unique flavor of the place comes through powerfully.
— Roderick Matthews
New Republic
Gyan Prakash chronicles Bombay with verve and panache. . . . [H]e has meshed different narratives of the city, and created a hybrid blend that is entirely in character with Bombay itself.
— Salil Tripathi
India Today
[T]he historian here is a first-rate storyteller.
— S. Prasannarajan
India Abroad
A majestic work of history. . . . Search for a single dull paragraph or a mildly boring chapter and you will be frustrated and defeated. . . . There is serious history here, which is very readable, and there is serious history of sex, murder, and scams reminiscent of the works of the novelist James Ellroy.
— Arthur J. Pais
India Post
Etching out the cultural history of one of the world's most important urban centers, Gyan Prakash views Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals. Shedding light on the city's past and present, Mumbai Fables offers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis.
— Srirekha Chakravarty
Independent
A delight. . . . Mumbai's history is almost as full of crime, corruption, terror, and chauvinism as of fabulous creativity. In Prakash's account, rightly, it is the latter which predominates.
— Stephen Howe
Seattle Times
[Prakash] has been able to pull together an impressive amount of facts, figures, and fables by devoting himself to sources such as novels, poems, films, interviews, tabloid accounts and even comic-book illustrations.
— Bharti Kirchner
Smart Set
Reading Mumbai Fables, you can get the sense of the linear timeline, the Bombay to Mumbai, England to India, with a jagged Partition down the middle. . . . But going from A to B won't help you understand how that happened. Prakash uses the act of collage to give the reader a better perspective. . . . Masterful. . . . I think Prakash gets closer to a true picture of what Mumbai is—if a city is anything.
— Jessa Crispin
Bookslut.com
I recommend you read Mumbai Fables. And then, crack a beer and watch a Hindi film.
— Amitava Kumar
Sydney Morning Herald
[An] excellent account of Mumbai. . . . This is an insider's view of one of India's most exciting and unusual cities. It is a reminder of how much deeper a local can go and how much more valuable such a guide can be. If you are planning a visit to Mumbai this is a superb introduction.
— Bruce Elder
CultureWars.org
The real and rapid development currently taking place in India offers new hope, but it will take dreamers as well as business leaders to fashion a new modernity for the masses rather than just the elites. Mumbai Fables points to one good place to start.
— Dolan Cummings
Sunday Guardian
Gyan Prakash's Mumbai Fables is a thing of beauty. Trawling the archives as flâneur and walking the city's past as historian, Prakash reads the city as palimpsest. He pays homage to the seductive power of myths about Mumbai and its earlier avatar Bombay—the city of free enterprise, the efficient city, the cosmopolitan city, the liberal city, the modern city—while illuminating the troubled histories and lowly origins from which the myths emerge.
— Rohit Chopra
Berlin Review of Books
Mumbai Fables is an engaging narrative, and offers a different way for urban historians to write the biography of a city. But it will have more to offer for those familiar with the city, for whom the gleam of recognition will be a benefit.
— Katrina Gulliver
Choice
Utilizing popular literature, movies, comics, and art as metaphors for Mumbai's (Bombay's) history, historian Prakash interprets the history and allure of Mumbai from its early days as a collection of small islands containing an equally small population to its contemporary attempts to become a 'world class city.'
Businessworld
[I]n Mumbai Fables, Prakash has managed to write a riveting account, which is very much his own. . . . Each story is so well-told that it is impossible to put the book down.
— Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
Contemporary South Asia
[T]his is an immensely readable book. In a highly informative and innovative style Prakash presents both a popular urban history and a sophisticated interpretation of that history, without compromising content, style or concept.
— Arnab Roy Chowdhury
Glasgow Herald - William Dalrymple
Brilliant.
Time Out Mumbai - Naresh Fernandes
[T]he most masterful history yet written about this celebrated, struggling city, a riveting narrative that reaches back to 1498 to explore the stories the metropolis has conspired to tell itself—and spun out for the world. . . . Prakash's Mumbai Fables sets a new standard in writing about cities, not just as a history of Mumbai but as an accessible history of any metropolis.
Literary Review - Roderick Matthews
The strength of Mumbai Fables is its treasury of cultural references about the city, and in this, it excels. Novels, short stories, newspapers, films, poems, paintings; the unique flavor of the place comes through powerfully.
New Republic - Salil Tripathi
Gyan Prakash chronicles Bombay with verve and panache. . . . [H]e has meshed different narratives of the city, and created a hybrid blend that is entirely in character with Bombay itself.
India Today - S. Prasannarajan
[T]he historian here is a first-rate storyteller.
India Abroad - Arthur J. Pais
A majestic work of history. . . . Search for a single dull paragraph or a mildly boring chapter and you will be frustrated and defeated. . . . There is serious history here, which is very readable, and there is serious history of sex, murder, and scams reminiscent of the works of the novelist James Ellroy.
India Post - Srirekha Chakravarty
Etching out the cultural history of one of the world's most important urban centers, Gyan Prakash views Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals. Shedding light on the city's past and present, Mumbai Fables offers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis.
Independent - Stephen Howe
A delight. . . . Mumbai's history is almost as full of crime, corruption, terror, and chauvinism as of fabulous creativity. In Prakash's account, rightly, it is the latter which predominates.
Seattle Times - Bharti Kirchner
[Prakash] has been able to pull together an impressive amount of facts, figures, and fables by devoting himself to sources such as novels, poems, films, interviews, tabloid accounts and even comic-book illustrations.
Smart Set - Jessa Crispin
Reading Mumbai Fables, you can get the sense of the linear timeline, the Bombay to Mumbai, England to India, with a jagged Partition down the middle. . . . But going from A to B won't help you understand how that happened. Prakash uses the act of collage to give the reader a better perspective. . . . Masterful. . . . I think Prakash gets closer to a true picture of what Mumbai is—if a city is anything.
Bookslut.com - Amitava Kumar
I recommend you read Mumbai Fables. And then, crack a beer and watch a Hindi film.
Sydney Morning Herald - Bruce Elder
[An] excellent account of Mumbai. . . . This is an insider's view of one of India's most exciting and unusual cities. It is a reminder of how much deeper a local can go and how much more valuable such a guide can be. If you are planning a visit to Mumbai this is a superb introduction.
CultureWars.org - Dolan Cummings
The real and rapid development currently taking place in India offers new hope, but it will take dreamers as well as business leaders to fashion a new modernity for the masses rather than just the elites. Mumbai Fables points to one good place to start.
Sunday Guardian - Rohit Chopra
Gyan Prakash's Mumbai Fables is a thing of beauty. Trawling the archives as flâneur and walking the city's past as historian, Prakash reads the city as palimpsest. He pays homage to the seductive power of myths about Mumbai and its earlier avatar Bombay—the city of free enterprise, the efficient city, the cosmopolitan city, the liberal city, the modern city—while illuminating the troubled histories and lowly origins from which the myths emerge.
Berlin Review of Books - Katrina Gulliver
Mumbai Fables is an engaging narrative, and offers a different way for urban historians to write the biography of a city. But it will have more to offer for those familiar with the city, for whom the gleam of recognition will be a benefit.
Businessworld - Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
[I]n Mumbai Fables, Prakash has managed to write a riveting account, which is very much his own. . . . Each story is so well-told that it is impossible to put the book down.
Contemporary South Asia - Arnab Roy Chowdhury
[T]his is an immensely readable book. In a highly informative and innovative style Prakash presents both a popular urban history and a sophisticated interpretation of that history, without compromising content, style or concept.
Arab News - Lisa Kaaki
Mumbai Fables is a wonderfully entertaining introduction to the city's rich cultural history.
Time Magazines Literary Supplement
The best test of a city's biography, like [Mumbai Fables], is whether it makes the reader want to visit of not. Those who do, having read this book, will have a perceptive, if quirky, insight as their guide.
From the Publisher
"[T]his is an immensely readable book. In a highly informative and innovative style Prakash presents both a popular urban history and a sophisticated interpretation of that history, without compromising content, style or concept."—Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Contemporary South Asia

"Mumbai Fables is a wonderfully entertaining introduction to the city's rich cultural history."—Lisa Kaaki, Arab News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142845
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/20/2010
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 1,041,748
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Gyan Prakash is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University. He is the author of "Bonded Histories" and "Another Reason" (Princeton) and the editor of "Noir Urbanisms".
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations ix Chapter 1: THE MYTHIC CITY 1
Chapter 2: THE COLONIAL GOTHIC 25
Chapter 3: THE CITY ON THE SEA 75
Chapter 4: THE COSMOPOLIS AND THE NATION 117
Chapter 5: THE TABLOID AND THE CITY 158
Chapter 6: FROM RED TO SAFFRON 204
Chapter 7: PLANNING AND DREAMING 251
Chapter 8: AVENGER ON THE STREET 289
Chapter 9: DREAMWORLDS 325
Acknowledgments 349
Notes 353
Index 381
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